Chicken Milanese

I’ve been eating and making this for years without ever knowing what it was–that is to say, without ever knowing what the name “Chicken Milanese” denoted.

The Italian restaurants where I’ve had it have all served it similarly, so when I started making it at home, I never questioned what Chicken Milanese entailed. It wasn’t until I started searching the web to make sure I knew my stuff that I realized I’d been using the name of a preparation style as the name of a dish.

Chicken Milanese is a way of preparing and frying chicken breast. It’s thin (traditionally butterflied) chicken breast which is dipped in egg and then breaded in a seasoned breadcrumb mixture.

But for us, the name Chicken Milanese will continue to denote a dish: chicken breasts breaded in seasoned panko and served with a green, leafy salad made up mostly of “specialty” lettuces. I prefer when we use about half spring mix (usually Earthbound Farms Organic) and half arugula, but if you read yesterday’s (early this morning’s?) post you’ll have seen that we used spinach yesterday in the Chicken Saltimbocca, and it is our strategy to plan meals with crossover ingredients (you might have seen me refer to “ingredient counterparts,” which, now that I think of it, is a pretentious way of saying something really simple) so we don’t waste anything, or let anything get past its prime. So rather than get arugula specifically for this dish, we used half organic spring mix, half baby spinach. We have made this dish this way several times before for the same reason. It doesn’t suck.

At all.

…but you should sub the arugula.

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For me, this thing is all about hot chicken right out of the oil against bright, fresh salad. The mix of textures, temperatures, oiliness, saltiness, and lemon acidity make for wonderful flavor, and despite its relative simplicity as a dish, it’s one of our favorite things to eat.

My girlfriend fries a better cutlet than me. I admit it. I’ve come to terms. No shame in my game. I’d be remiss not to credit her with the work. All I do for this one is make the salad. And roast the lemons. Big deal.

This recipe is so simple and open-ended I almost feel like I should just post pictures, but there may be a few little things we do that affect the end result.

I’ll say this now: I like a very simple, extra-virginy, salty, peppery dressing with a dash of lemon juice. Sometimes I do a variant with a dash of champagne vinegar. If you don’t have a taste for heavy olive oil, prefer not to use salt, or really like vinegary dressing, you may want to go with an oil and balsamic, which would work perfectly well here, or just up the portion of champagne wine vinegar (which I’d recommend over changing the dressing altogether).

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Some nice grape tomatoes. Grape, cherry, small artisan tomatoes…. I’ve used them all. This is very much a “what’s on hand, what’s fresh” recipe.
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I slice the onion about 2 mm thick. Some of it’s thicker, some of it’s thinner. Don’t sweat it. There’s the business end of my Henckel’s Four Star. Keep the fancy new $100+ knives. I love this thing.

I will say, though, if you’re not opposed to any of the flavors in the dressing, resist the urge to deviate at first and overload it with acidity. It’s old-school rustic Italian (at least I think it is…and if it’s not, it should be), and there’s something about cracked peppercorn, coarse sea salt, heavy olive oil and fresh produce that just works. The acidity of the lemon or/and the champagne vinegar slightly cut the fatty, rich flavor of the oil. I find that most dressings have way too much acidity, whereas this one is rather tempered. So try it this way if it doesn’t sound off-putting to your palate.

Like most things, I eyeball it. Enough extra virgin olive oil to coat the leaves (I went heavier than I should have in the photo below) and a few squirts of fresh lemon from your juicer–go way light, taste, add–and then coarse sea salt and cracked black pepper. I tend to go heavy on the salt and pepper, which I think you need to do if you make a less acidic dressing (less lemon or vinegar) to keep it from being bland and too oily. I also find that a little more salt is key to really get a juxtaposition with the hot, oily chicken breading. You can sub vinegar if you’re averse to using any extra salt. I wouldn’t blame you. I eat way too much salt. When we serve the salad, we top it with a little shaved parmesan. Hold off on the parm until you plate it, or else it will get soggy. It looks and eats best when the cheese is still dry and crumbly.

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If that looks like a lot of onion…. It is. I love onion.

I prepped the onion and tomato early, but if you’re doing this all at dinner time I’d recommend starting with the lemons, if you want to do them at all (they are not a necessary element to the dish). They will take you, all told, about 45 minutes. In a Pyrex dish (here’s a nice price on a pair, square & oblong) , well ahead of cooking them, I added just enough regular olive oil to coat the bottom. I added some herbs–I’m pretty much a two-herb-pony right now, rosemary and thyme, because that’s what was hardy enough to survive my brown thumb/garden negligence. I added a short sprig of rosemary and two short sprigs of thyme. I just threw the sprigs into the oil, but in hind sight, maybe should have pulled the leaves. I also sprinkled a pinch of sea salt across the surface of the oil. Lay the lemons out, drizzle a little more oil and salt, and bake them until you see some nice color. They are a beautiful garnish, and I like to gnaw on them, too. It’s like a grownup Warhead.

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You can see lemon thickness there. 2 – 3 mm, not super important.

Below in the picture captions are instructions I paraphrased straight from my girlfriend, the Cutlet Master herself. I won’t dare try to make breaded chicken breast under the shadow of the sensei, but you guys can, and should.

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Cutlet Master (paraphrase): You want thin breasts. Rinse them before coating in flower to ensure a very even coat of flower, which in turn ensures a more even coat of egg, which in turn ensures a more even coat of breading (apparently that’s how they get perfect, like these).
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Cutlet Master (paraphrase): You want enough oil to coat the bottom, and then just a little bit more. Get it nice and hot, and test with water. When it bubbles and hisses at you, you’re ready to go. When the cutlet starts to float a little, check the bottom. You should see golden-brown at that point, then flip it. When it starts to float a little again, if you’re golden-brown on the bottom, you’re golden (heh heh).

These turned out to be the best cutlets I ever had, hands down.

Here are some more pictures of the finished plate. We eat this weekly, and we love it. If you forgo the roasted lemons, which we often do, it only takes about as long as it takes to fry the chicken. You’re hard-pressed to put together a better-tasting meal with less effort, ingredients and time.

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Again, this is very much a “what’s on hand, what’s fresh” concept. Don’t let this particular version of it confine you at all. If you want ingredients or instructions, I’m more than happy to give them to you in the comments, but riff on it. Make sure you try it at least once with 1/2 arugula, 1/2 spring mix, and, if it suits you, a simple, EVOO-based dressing like mine, but this is not an exact-science recipe.

Heed the wise words of Sensei Cutlet Master (redundant?). Be diligent with the cutlets, make simple, not-overly-acidic dressing, use fresh produce, and I bet this becomes a staple for you, same as it is for us.

As always, please leave your feedback, suggestions, recommendations, corrections, complaints, thoughts, concerns, musings, hopes, and dreams. All are encouraged, I just might not be able to help you out with the last two.

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6 thoughts on “Chicken Milanese

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